On July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 was en route to Chicago when a mechanical failure caused the plane to become all but uncontrollable. In this unsurvivable situation, the flight crew saved more than half of those onboard. How did they do it?
Flight crews and software teams actually have a lot in common, and there's much we can learn from how the best crews do their jobs. What can we learn from the story of United 232? While this talk won't earn you your pilot's license, you'll definitely come away with some fresh ideas on how to make your team even more amazing.
The talk will follow the narrative of United flight 232. The DC-10's tail-mounted engine fan blade exploded in flight, and the resulting shrapnel severed all three of the plane's redundant hydraulic systems, leaving the pilots almost no ability to control the plane. Yet, against almost-impossible odds, they managed a meandering approach to Sioux City, Iowa, and lined up for a relatively controlled crash.
The crash of UAL 232 is widely held as an example of the success of Crew Resource Management, a set of practices adopted in aviation in the early 1980's to encourage flight crews to make optimum use of all resources available to them (including each other) to increase safety. The concepts of CRM (situational awareness, communication, teamwork, flexibility and adaptability) are just as applicable to engineering teams as they are to flight crews.
During the 40 minutes between when the #2 fan blade initially explodes and the controlled crash at Sioux City, there are a significant number of key events and attitudes that lead to the eventual outcome. These points in the narrative give us several significant takeaways that can enhance how we work together as teams. Among them:
Flight crews and software teams are both made up of individuals with widely varying levels of experience and expertise. This is especially true as Ruby is ever-more-widely adopted and the supply of available "5+ years of Ruby experience" engineers becomes spread further. It's essential that we continue to learn how to work together effectively in this mixed-experience environment.
Because of the lives at stake, the aviation field has put considerable research and effort into understanding how to make these mixed-experience teams as effective as possible, especially in stressful, fast-paced commercial airliner cockpits. We would be wise to consider this extensive research as we build our own teams, and that's the focus of this talk.
I'm a lifelong aviation geek, and particularly a student of aviation disasters. I've long been fascinated by the human dynamics in the cockpit that sometimes turn tiny equipment faults into horrific disasters and sometimes (as in the case of UAL 232) turn insurmountable problems into relative successes. This knowledge of how humans work together under extreme pressure has served me well as I've moved into an engineering leadership role, and I'd be thrilled to share it with others.